Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Improvising Life

I find it a very interesting thing that the root of any kind of Improv group is this concept of agreement. Tonight I listened to the first part of "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell which is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone. A chapter covered an improv group in a lot of detail and used many examples of this agreement concept. While the outsider believes that improv is pure chaos there are actually some very important rules of conduct that are vital to sucess. The most important of these is that you can not turn down anything that is suggested. The example used in the book was a skit where a doctor and paitient were discussing a problem with his arm. The paitient said "you can't amputate it. I'm rather attached to it" and in the next line the idea was shot down and the skit abruptly ended. The basic reason for this is that there is a need for a smooth flow of ideas and improv is constantly working with what you got and when your in a live performance you simply can not take something back. It is crucial to go with the flow and to build upon what was done and let the ideas of each person involved in a skit to flow uninterupted. This is a very small description of the rule of agreement.

Recently I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine that scared me in that I saw so much of myself in this person from a dark time of my life and I realized that the majority of the things this person had been doing that upset me were completely justified in their mind and in the same state of mind I would have responded much the same way. Perhaps scared isn't the proper word but startled would be a better description of the way I felt. Realizing that this friend of mine has been trapped in a position with their hands tied and not being able to do what they believed they needed to do and then thinking about the situations that I went through 4-5 years ago in my life made me realize the similarities were overwhelming and realized that, while things did need to change, I could not fault this person for the reactions they had to many different things. This added to the desire to understand what it was that made me better a little over 3 years ago which I explained in an earlier blog. I think this concept of agreement helped answer at least a small portion of that.

At the end of 2004 I was undergoing some different treatments through Western Psychiatric in Pittsburgh, PA. On of these was a program that was based upon the research of Marsha Linehan. Just a few days ago I was reminded of her concepts from a podcast that I listened to, Wise Counsel. Listening to the interview was very interesting for me because this was looking at what I went through as a paitient from the eyes of the psychologist and the concepts became a lot more real to me. The most important concepts in the program I went through was "it is what it is".... The example that I remember the clearest was the story of a boy on a bike who is going down a hill and is out of control. At the bottom of this hill is a very busy intersection and, ultimately, the boy runs into the intersection and is killed. The typical response that everyone has is "that shouldn't have happened" but, in reality, yes it should have. It's not to take light the tragedy that occured because it is devestating. The reason why you can't say that it shouldn't have happened is because of the events that led up to it. The stage was set and it was ultimately what had to happen. Realizing this reduces a lot of stress and anxiety we place on ourselves. If we do not accept the fact that this had to happen because the events led to it then we find ourselves trying to explain why they happened and we start blaming people while our another part of our brain is trying to scream to us that it is not their fault. We don't make anything better when we can not accept what happened and what events led to that. We can look to the future and possibly prevent it from happening again but the bottom line is that what happened is what happened -- it is what it is. It wasn't until I listened to the podcast that I realized that there is an entire field of "acceptance therapy". What is interesting about Linehan's work is that it takes a slightly different approach in that it mixes acceptance therapy with adding some possibility of change but only after you accept that you can't change the past. This is a little deeper than I need to go in to right now so let's just leave it at acceptance therapy.

When I was about 16 it seems that a long series of events happened that really pushed me into situations that I could not control and what made it worse was that many of these were things that were absolutely not fair. Not to take lightly the fact that I made mistakes there were situations where people acted more immature than what I did in response to my immaturity. My life started to go downhill a little more with each step because my motivation was to change that which occured and convince these people of their immaturity. I spiraled more and more out of control because these were just simply situations that could not be changed or improved upon -- the problem was that I didn't know this, or at least I didn't want to know this. I became more and more incapable of accepting things as they were and moving forward regardless. This entire phase of my life is an almost carbon copy of the concepts involved in my friend's current struggles.

So what was it that changed me? Was it this program I went through? Not eactly. Actually, I still don't know but I think the concepts that I learned in the program that I went through were a vital part in whatever it was that made me better. More so, I think other concepts that have already been brought up in the book, "Blink", play a vital role. There was a huge need for my unconscious to be retrained. It was important for me to accept the things that had happened, no matter how horrible they were, and to continue the flow of life. I had to improvise. Its interesting to find that acceptance therapy is becomming well known as a highly effective therapy and I don't think its a huge leap to understand why.

Its interesting that all of these improv comedy groups have had the answer all along. Never deny the fact of something that happened and agree with the other people involved and move forward and build off of each other's ideas. Everything stated in an improv skit needs to be used as a springboard for more thoughts and, in the same way, everything that happens to us in our lives needs to be used as a springboard for the rest of our lives. No matter how bad something was that happened to us we need to accept the fact that it happened to us and we need to move forward. Bad things are going to happen to us and bad people are going to hurt us but if we can not move past that and we obsess on "getting even" it isn't that other person's life that we hurt but, rather, it is our own life that we hurt because we are failing to progress. We refuse to agree that the events that led up to the negative event that harmed us had to end that way and, thus, we hold ourselves back because we are trying to change events that, well, had to happen. The most important part of all of this is to realize that accepting that events happened does not mean we accept that they were right. We need to accept that it is what it is and to move forward from there. If we don't agree then we end up killing this amazing improv show that is called -- life.

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